Somewhere along the way, Kurt, a retired naval officer, asked me if I had my Boaters Certification with me. “Huh? What’s that?” I replied stupidly, thinking he must be joking. “Your Safe Boaters Certification. Didn’t you know you could be heavily fined for paddling in DC waters without one?” “You’re kidding,” I said with a sigh as the realization that he was serious settled into my consciousness. “No. Seriously, if the Coast Guard stops us, you could receive a $1000 fine if you do not have one on your person. By the way, there is a course that is going to be offered by the DC Harbor Police on April 22nd. You might consider taking it. It’s free.” “Well, damn. You learn something new every day,” I thought. “Someone is always making things difficult.” "Do you have one?" I asked. Kurt looked at me with for a moment then said, "I was in the Navy. It's a requirement." I could read the punctuation on his face - "dummy."
Did you know that you are required to have a Boating Safety Certificate to legally paddle in DC waterways? Did you know that not carrying a whistle is an arrestable offense?
I didn’t either. Turns out, more and more states are moving in the direction of requiring canoeists, kayakers, even SUP paddlers to be course certified in water safety, just like the big guys. Most states honor certificates from other states. So, if you were certified in Virginia your certification is valid on Washington DC waterways.
Apparently, these legalities are not new. They have just not been enforced because most paddlers are safety conscious. Paddling safety is given top billing on most kayaking websites. But, I’m thinking that much if this recent emphasis is being driven by the rash of drowning we’ve seen recently. Many in this area were kayak related. Kayak fishing seems to be an upcoming sport. Unfortunately, some of the fish hooked play a kayak like my dog plays with a yard ball. And while this is part of the “sport,” it can also be dangerous. In cold weather, at night, and with even colder water conditions, and maybe a few brewskis… well, who knows how much fun you can have? “Hmmm,” I’m thinking. “So, maybe this forced education and certification might not be such a bad proposition.” I’ve also run into some pretty obnoxious SUP paddlers who seem to think that because they are small and self-propelled, they have the right of way and can paddle anywhere they choose – including large boat harbors. This could actually be a very good thing.
I'm also thinking that we're going to see a much more rigorous enforcement of these issues as the summer draws near. So, you've been forewarned.
I’m interested in hearing your thought on the subject. Do you think Safe Boating Certificates are a good thing? Or just one more government regulation that interferes with your freedoms.
Here is a link to help direct you to where you too can become “edjumakated” and board certified.
USCG Auxilliary “About Boating Safety” The site contains an embedded link to a Zip Code Course Finder.
If you live in or near the DC Metro area, there is a free course that will be taught by Rob Calligaro of the DC Harbor Police on River Safety. It will teach about the legal requirements, Navigational rules, safety equipment, and other issues related to safe boating and paddling. The course is free and is the equivalent of the United States Coast Guard approved Boating Safety Certificate. More information is provided in the calendar link.
BTW, I'd like to thank Kurt for the stimulating discussion of Boating Safety Certification that seeded this blog.
Boating safety classes are available throughout the year on
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
The District of Columbia Harbor Police also offers an online course.
Stay safe out there.